Thursday, November 8, 2007

Smart Thinking

The Perfect Argument - The True Secret To Winning!

Everyone around us was waiting with baited breath, leaning forward in their seats, watching as if to see if the lions would eat the gladiators in the arena.
Well, it was actually a more modern version of that moment – A presenter at a conference posed an offer and a challenge.

“Who wants to win $200?”

Two contenders stepped up briskly and were seated across from each other at the table.

“Are you familiar with arm wrestling? Yes? So here’s the challenge. I’m giving you 20 seconds to get the other guy's arm down on that table and if you do I’ll give you 200 bucks. Ready? Go!”

And the fists clenched, muscles seized and the hooting and hollering started immediately… They had every intention of making sure the $200 was their own.
That moment was very like the ones that go on in offices, school hallways, and homes every day.

A challenge is posed. Two people who are sure they’re going after different sides of a ‘win/loose’ battle have every ounce of energy poised. And everyone else leaps to take spectator seats, reinforcing the strategizing and maneuvering and battling.
As I watched I leaned over to the woman next to me and said out of the corner of my mouth “They ought to go for broke!”


While adrenaline fed the clenched fists, frozen arms and straining necks at the front of the room, I said… well, I’ll get back to that in a second.

How many times a day do you get to watch a discussion turn into a battle over who will win?

At one of my clients, a manufacturer of industrial machinery, battle broke out between the head of Accounting and the head of Sales. A string of emails flashed back and forth for a month, each one longer, more heated and accusatory. And the President of the company was cc’d on the series after weeks of this going on.

“What do I do with this?” he asked me, tossing me page after page of print.

“Change the conversation.” I said.


I’m asked that a lot.

“If you read the emails, each of them is insisting that their stand is the company policy. Your head of Sales says she struck a unique agreement with a new distributor in order to open the market in the northeast for your product, ahead of the competition. She’s guaranteed them commission payouts every 15 days.

Your head of Accounting says payout on that schedule is against company policy and she won’t do it. Are they both correct in their perspectives at this moment?”


“Then change their conversation from competing to see who can forcibly win an argument, to HOW might this situation be addressed so that the company succeeds.”

And the 3 of them sat down and in 6 minutes had ironed out their solution.
Don’t tell me “But Linda, that’s obvious! It’s common sense!” Life and business are about habits and adrenaline more often than they’re about common sense. I bet you could list at least 4 disagreements you overheard, or even participated in this past week.

Because no one started with the question “What could success look like in this situation?” and they certainly seldom pose the question with the other party at the table to join in.

When you look at the clenched fists of arm wrestlers, they’re identical to the joined hands of agreement. The only difference is the intention – to win over the other person, or to create joint success.

How do I know? Well in addition to the tens, or is it hundreds of times I’ve helped clients shift their conversation and their results, I did it there and then in the room.

“He said 200 bucks for getting the arm on the table. He didn’t put any limit on how many times. Work fast and work together and everyone wins.”
She grinned.

And at the 20-second mark both their arms were still in the air.

The presenter grinned and said “Anyone else want to try?” And I grabbed her hand and pulled her up from the table and headed for the front of the room.
As we sat ourselves down, he said “I want to up the ante here.” Before he went any further I asked “Is that the total limitation – arm touches the table top within the 20 seconds?”

“Yep, but this time, it’s for a 45-hour 15 week $2,997 course with me!”

I confess. We both smirked. I looked her in the eye and with a faint side-to-side wiggle of my head quietly said “Fast and easy!”

“Ready? Go!”

Remember… 15 emails for 4 weeks and lots of anger… versus 6 minutes and a solution?

Well, $5,996 in under 3 seconds.

That’s what we created before the rest of the room had a chance to start rooting. Both of our arms were down on the tabletop within the first 3 seconds, and then we relaxed and easily did it another couple of times while looking up at him as the 20 seconds expired.

Hands in the same position as the combatants, the difference was in the intention.

What is your intention? What is the success you’re focused on creating?

© 2007 Linda Feinholz.
Management expert, consultant, and coach Linda Feinholz is "Your Success Catalyst." Linda publishes the free weekly newsletter The Spark! to subscribers world-wide and delivers targeted solutions, practical skills and simple ways to boost professional and personal results. If you're ready to focus on your High Payoff activities, accelerate your results and have more fun at it, get your FR'EE tips like these visit her site at